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Gov. Shapiro touts universal free breakfast funding during Penn Hills visit

A man talks to students and teachers at a desk.
Jillian Forstadt
90.5 WESA
Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks with students and staff in Penn Hills on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023.

Students in Pennsylvania public schools will have access to free breakfast this year, regardless of their family income.

Gov. Josh Shapiro stopped at Penn Hills Elementary School on Tuesday to promote the program, which received a $46.5 million boost in the budget signed into law late last week.

“That means that all 1.8 million Pennsylvania schoolchildren are going to have the opportunity to show up at school and get free breakfast,” Shapiro highlighted. “Universal free breakfast puts every kid on the same playing field, gives every kid that opportunity to succeed.”

Research has shown that students in districts that offer free breakfast at school experience improved concentration and comprehension, boosting their ability to learn.

Providing students with breakfast in the classroom is also associated with lower rates of tardiness, fewer disciplinary referrals and improved attendance rates.

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In Allegheny County, 146,649 students will be eligible for free morning meals. The budget also includes money to offer free lunch to all students who qualify for reduced-price midday meals through the National School Lunch Program.

Even in early budget proposals, Shapiro promised to fund the breakfast program, launched in October 2022 under then-Gov. Tom Wolf.

“That is why at every step through this budget process, I made clear that universal free breakfast would remain on the table, it wouldn't be cut and we would deliver for our children,” Shapiro added.

But other school budget items remain tied up in negotiations between lawmakers in the state legislature, including $100 million for the Commonwealth’s poorest schools, also known as Level Up funding.

Shapiro said the program, along with vouchers for private and religious school students, was among the unfinished business he hopes Democrats and Republicans will find common ground on in the coming weeks.

Jillian Forstadt is an education reporter at 90.5 WESA. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she covered affordable housing, homelessness and rural health care at WSKG Public Radio in Binghamton, New York. Her reporting has appeared on NPR’s Morning Edition.